The most underreported story in our world

Yesterday, a rant. Today, a deep water jaunt.

I write of Postmodernism here, for two reasons: One, I’m convinced that our culture is in the throes of a massive change, the evidence of which is everywhere. Somebody needs to be explaining change in the context of this cultural shift, so why not me? Secondly, I take this position, because it’s utterly fascinating to me. I’ve always been a guy who marched to a different drum beat, and this one resonates deep in my soul.

I’ll admit the concept is a turn-off to many, and writing about it has probably hurt me from a business standpoint. After all, who wants to hire the iconoclast? However, I believe the turn-off is fear and ignorance-driven, so I forge ahead, ever hopeful of planting seeds amidst the weeds of the dying culture of Modernism.

As I’ve stated before, my view of culture is rather simplistic. It needs to be that way for me, because I think you can wrap yourself up in your own tail by pursuing this subject too intensely.

Premodernism: I believe, therefore I understand.
Modernism: I think and reason, therefore I understand.
Postmodernism: I experience, therefore I understand.

At the top and bottom of this blog are quotes from Leonard Sweet, a cultural historian whose works I started reading 10 years ago. Sweet’s message is principally to the Christian church — in its broadest possible definition — because Postmodernism seems to undercut not only faith but also faith that’s based in logic. To “the church,” Postmodernism is viewed as a threat so big that it could literally destroy church-going as we’ve known it for two millennia.

The justification for this threat is what intellectuals view as the core belief of Postmodernism — its denial of the possibility of or need for propositional, objective truth. These critics argue that Postmodernism rejects the “grand narratives” that have governed humankind from the beginning by announcing that everything is relative.

But this is really just posturing to protect the twin gods of Modernism, logic and reason.

I’m writing about this today, because I just finished a fascinating article in The Christian Examiner called Leaders call ‘Emerging Church Movement’ a threat to Gospel. Sensing their fatted calf about to be whacked, theologians of every cloth are attacking this “movement,” because it flows from Postmodernism. Here’s a sample:

(Theologian D.A.) Carson asserts that some Emerging Church leaders are “painfully reductionistic about modernism and the confessional Christianity that forged its way through the modernist period” and that they “give the impression of dismissing” Christianity.

Carson argues that many thinkers in the movement shy away from asserting that Christianity is true and authoritative.

He also argues that the Emerging Church Movement frequently fails to use Scripture as the normative standard of truth and instead appeals to tradition.

“Dr. Carson doesn’t understand us,” (Brian) McLaren told Baptist Press

McLaren, who is the founding pastor of Cedar Ridge Community Church near Baltimore, MD., and was listed as one of 25 influential evangelicals by Time magazine, said that he rejects the label “movement” to describe the Emerging Church.

“I generally don’t even use the term movement at this point,” he said. “I think it’s more of a conversation. It’s a group of people who are talking about the gospel and church and mission, especially in terms of changes going on in our culture that some people call a shift from modern to postmodern culture.”

In contrast to the cultural imperialism demonstrated by believers in the past, McLaren said he believes Christians should present Christianity through loving attitudes rather than logical arguments.

So church is a conversation. I like that.

What these theologians don’t see is that they’re operating within that which is known, and that is limiting to the Postmodernist. I don’t think Pomos reject logic and reason; they just see that life — and especially God — is bigger. Chaos is bigger, and that, too, should give us all pause.

Pomos have difficulty with God, the Father, but welcome the concept of God, the Holy Spirit. The former is authoritative and hierarchical, while the latter is in us, among us, and experiential.

One quote in this article is especially revealing:

“When it comes to issues such as the exclusivity of the gospel, the identity of Jesus Christ as both fully human and fully divine, the authoritative character of Scripture as written revelation, and the clear teaching of Scripture concerning issues such as homosexuality, this movement simply refuses to answer the questions,” Mohler (R. Albert Mohler Jr., president of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, KY.) writes.

“A responsible theological argument must acknowledge that difficult questions demand to be answered. We are not faced with an endless array of doctrinal variants from which we can pick and choose.”

With all due respect to Mr. Mohler and theologians everywhere, some difficult questions just can’t be answered, and this IS a core principle of Postmodernism. It’s what allows the new culture to fly beyond the old, because we’re no longer blocked by the artificial barriers of human logic and reason.

To the person studying life in these United States, I urge you to venture beyond the reef of your own logic (or that of others). If you don’t, little of what’s happening around you will make sense (how ironic), but if you do, you’ll find the sweetest marriage of the known and the unknown, and life itself will have new meaning.

You’ll see, for example, the institutions of our culture struggling against a force they cannot manage. You’ll find their arguments confining and archaic. You’ll understand that technology serves the cultural shift and that empowering the individual is its ultimate purpose. You’ll actually witness a cultural collision, the likes of which we haven’t seen in hundreds of years.

If you’re going to study culture, you must be prepared to study religion, for it’s at the heart of any culture. The war underway here is revealing and fascinating — and the most underreported story in our world today.


  1. Henryu Harrison says

    Thansk Terry, one of your best columns for a long time. I think the concept of Church as conversation has a lot going for it, a Quaker sort of feel to me. I’d like to suggest that for a lot of us, the conversation has become the church. Much of my dialogue with others concerns issues of meaning and core human values, if such exist. And this well outside any formal religoius structure.

    I guess the modernist point of view comes unstuck on the many paradoxes that make up modern life, such as the unintended consequences we get from the social systems we design.

  2. I like what you’re saying here, Terry. What makes me uncomfortable about some of the McChurches is their steadfast endorsement of suburban mediocrity.

    In their conversations, it seems to me that these shephards are not helping people come to your postmodern realization of our place in the universe and it’s coexistence of beauty and perversity. Rather, they are giving people a community that from which our culture has detached and given them a new form of 50’s suburbia within the confines of one building.

    I’m being a bit hard on them, certainly. As a reformed suburbanite, I’m still working my way out of the malaise that suburbia imprinted on my psyche. It’s been a hard road and will continue to be so; I needed a lot of mirror-holding to get to this point and still have plenty a ways to go. My hand is getting tired, and I’ve made a TON of progress.

  3. Terry,

    I just posted a snippet of this on my blog, as I mentioned in the next post just a bit ago what I told you after the FaithBased Blogger session today: that I was relieved to hear words like yours in that session, since I was wondering what I should say to a group who may not be open to theological alternatives other than the Religious Right-types. I was glad to hear from Ed Cone as well. Your prescence and articulation there helped me to feel more ease about speaking of my faith-blogging experience. I’ve added you and Ed to my RSS feed, as well as Frank Paynter, who I spoke with briefly as Dan Gillmour’s session started. Good two days. Glad got the chance to meet you.

    I have written a few articles/posts about the relevance of the Cluetrain Manifesto for Churhes here, in my Movable Type category devoted to those relevancies. I certainly share your appreciation of how “Churches are conversations”, and need to be about enabling them.

    Dale Lature

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